The Ontario Farmland Trust (OFT) is permanently protecting farmland from subdivision and urban sprawl with help from the American Friends of Canadian Conservation and the Woodcock Foundation.
OFT recently completed its 16th conservation easement, with a grant from American Friends to defray the substantial costs of protecting the 210-acre organic, multigenerational family farm in Price Edward County, Ontario. A charitable gift from the Woodcock Foundation in the U.S. made the grant possible.
The OFT is a Canadian registered charity, established in 2005. Krista Long, OFT’s Program Manager said, “We’re looking at the full farm ecosystem. Our goal is to protect both the agricultural land and the habitat. We want to build strong provincial protection for farmland, especially close to areas in the greenbelt,” referring the area covered by Ontario’s 2017 Greenbelt Plan In addition to its on-the-ground work, the OFT also organizes an annual farmland forum and provides policy advice to governments.
The farmer who donated the easement explained, “We are concerned about the rapidly expanding urbanization that is eating up much of Ontario’s farmland. Our farm has produced food for six generations, as well as provided habitat for many species of birds and animals. We want it to remain this way for future generations, and the Ontario Farmland Trust helped us ensure that will happen.”
The newly conserved farm has a forested area and natural features important for species at risk. The owners grow various grains, sell to a local market, and their certified bird-friendly haying practices protect grassland species such as Bobolink and Meadowlark.
Completing an easement transaction involves significant costs. Kathryn Enders, the Executive Director of the OFT says the organization typically raises as much as $50,000 CAD for appraisals, surveys, ecological assessments, and long-term annual monitoring.
“I met Sandy Tassel of American Friends at an Ontario Land Trust Alliance meeting. So, when the Woodcock Foundation wanted to help OFT complete this easement, I contacted Sandy. The Foundation can only contribute to US charities, like American Friends. Sandy confirmed that facilitating grants is part of American Friends’ mission and advised OFT to apply to become a qualified grantee. It was very easy, quick and straight forward. Now that I’ve gone through it, I’m not surprised that other land trusts have done the same thing,” Kathryn said.
As soon as OFT was approved by American Friends, The Woodcock Foundation made a gift to American Friends, with a request that the money be used to support protection of this organic farm.
Jeremy Guth, a trustee with the foundation, is a dual citizen, living in Toronto with a summer place in Prince Edward County; which has become a popular tourist destination, with enormous development pressure . He likes the thinking on this small-scale family farm, and values what this farm does on a cultural, economic, and local food system level.
Jeremy and his fellow trustees also see this easement as part of a conservation picture that encompasses the US and Canada.
“As a foundation we have funded trans-border projects, such as the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative in the west and 2C1Forest/Staying Connected Initiative along the Appalachian corridor. The trustees believe collaborations between public and private conservation entities from Canada and the United States are essential for maintaining connectivity across large bi-national landscapes. And we believe in keeping people in the landscape, rather than creating a park or a wilderness area with little human/nature interaction. Well-managed agricultural land, like this Ontario family farm with a conservation easement in place, allows for farming, wildlife habitat and important natural corridors.”
According to Jeremy, American Friends’ process was seamless and professional. He suggested there may be opportunities down the road to contribute to American Friends again so the Woodcock Foundation can help other Canadian land trusts complete easements on priority properties.
Kathryn of the Ontario Farmland Trust said, “There are more farmers who want to work with us than we can raise the money for. People find out about OFT and conservation easements by word of mouth, at farmer’s markets, from outreach to family friends and neighbours, and the easement celebration event that takes place on newly protected farm.”
According to the 2016 Census of Agriculture, 175 acres of farmland are lost every day in Ontario. Two million acres have been converted to other uses over the past 30 years. Many farmers are worried about what the future holds, so they feel that registering an easement is a way to leave a legacy for the future.
As the recent pandemic has reminded us, we need farmland to grow our own food. Easements that retain prime agricultural lands are insurance for the future and a benefit for farmers. Thanks to the Ontario Farmland Trust, the foundations that support its work, and American Friends of Canadian Conservation, farmland and wildlife can be protected.
Sheila is a Director of the Lasqueti Island Nature Conservancy and is the former Executive Director, Land Trust Alliance of British Columbia.